Quick Self-Compassion Practices to Build Resilience in Educators and Children

by Katie Raher, PhD

Love is in the air this time of year. And most people, myself included, have been figuring out how they want to spread some love and kindness to those near and dear. My questions for you are…

Have you thought about how you will give love to yourself…how you will lovingly speak to yourself...now and on the regular?

While I’m all about nurturing kindness for others, I believe that practicing loving on ourselves - including speaking kindly to ourselves - is a big factor in how well we are able to connect with and give whole-heartedly to others.

For many of us, though, giving ourselves love through kind words doesn’t come as naturally as would be ideal.

I frequently hear kids and adults alike saying things like, “I’m so stupid… …what’s wrong with me…I’m so bad at this…get over it already…why can’t I just be like everyone else?”

And let me be real. I hear these kinds of statements in my own head far too often. You might too. 

And for those adults and kids who are the most unkind to others, internal dialogues are often the harshest, whether we see it or not. On the flip side, even the kindest people can be particularly critical to themselves (as a recovering perfectionist, this is the camp I fall in).

Despite how common the internal critic is in all of us, there is good news.

The antidote is free and can be learned and practiced! Self-compassion is a powerful tool that continues to show increasing benefits as more and more research unfolds.

When practicing self-compassion tools like the ones I will offer below, benefits can include:

  • increased happiness, optimism, positive moods, motivation and initiative, curiosity and exploration, and agreeableness
  • decreased anxiety, depression, and stress

Basically, instead of our inner critic triggering a stress response and impaired learning and mood, use of self-compassion triggers a soothing response in our nervous system and brings about more feelings of well-being – and in turn raises the odds of connection, learning, engagement, and joy.

Now raise your hand if those are some outcomes you’d like to see in yourself, your students, your colleagues, and your own family members. My hand is flying high in the sky!

Ultimately, cultivating more love and compassion for ourselves is an important path to creating classrooms, schools, homes, and communities that are filled with more connection, kindness, well-being, and growth.

So, I’ve got 2 powerful tools to help you and your children quiet that inner critic and instead cultivate a strong, love-filled inner core, which is truly at the root of all resilience.

Take a Self-Compassion Break

Time needed: 1 minute or less

Lead self-compassion researcher Kristin Neff lays out 3 core components to self-compassion. They are exactly like what you would use if you were compassionately supporting a best friend through a challenging time. Here are common steps when helping others:

  • acknowledge that they are having a hard time
  • let them know they’re not alone, and
  • kindly offer your support and acceptance.

These components of traditional compassion help your loved one move through their suffering with more resilience and strength.

You too can move through any hard time with more resilience by being your own BFF and practicing self-compassion.

Think of something that is currently hard for you – a mistake or failure, something you aren’t liking about yourself, or anything that you’re having a hard time with.

Practice the 3 important components of self-compassion (which work in any order):

  • Be mindful of your feelings without judging yourself by noticing and naming the suffering.
  • Recognize that everyone has a hard time sometimes by connecting to common humanity.
  • Practice self-kindness by placing your hands over your heart (this could also be a self-hug or any other physical gesture of kindness) and using words to be kind to yourself. The physical gesturing does aid in the benefits you can experience.

The cool thing is that when you practice these steps on a regular basis, the simple act of placing your hands over your heart can by itself provide some benefits when another hard moment arises.

To remind you of the steps of self-compassion and give you some actual verbal prompts to help you learn to do this for yourself (and to teach your students and other loved ones about this powerful tool), I’ve created a Self-Compassion Break Poster, as well as Mini Self-Compassion Cards that you can pop in a pocket, put up in all the places you might hear yourself slipping back into old patterns (for me, I’m thinking bathroom mirror, car dashboard, above my kitchen sink, and office desk), and give out to kids to have reminders too!

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I hope you (and the people in your world) are able to give this practice a go and begin to reap the many benefits of self-compassion.

Tips for using at a Staff Meeting:

Start a staff meeting by asking everyone to silently think of something that was hard for them that day – something they aren’t happy about how they handled. Have the free poster up on an overhead (or a printed copy for each staff member), and guide your staff through every step so they can practice this more positive inner dialogue. Then share about the many benefits that have been revealed by research on self-compassion. Ask them to discuss how they could easily fit this into their day, and how they might be able to teach this tool to their students.

Tips for using with Children:

Ask your children to think of a time they made a mistake or had a hard time during the day or week. Give them examples – such as yelling at a friend, not doing well on a spelling test, or struggling to keep up with the classwork. Now teach them how to use the self-compassion steps, starting small and only teaching a limited set of the phrases you think would be most helpful for them, rather than giving them all the phrases on the poster right away. For example, you can have children repeat after you: “I’m having a hard time. It’s okay I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.” (Remember the steps don’t have to be used in a particular order.)

You can easily integrate this practice into growth mindset lessons as well. After practicing the self-compassion phrases, you can encourage kids to say things such as “I can always improve, so I’ll keep trying,” or “I am learning from this.”

Write Yourself a Love Letter

Time needed: 5-10 minutes

I recently found a love letter I’d written to myself about two years ago at the start of a yoga class (our teacher sent our letters to all of us months later). My letter was filled with so much vulnerability, love, kindness, compassion, courage, and truth. As I read it, I teared up and felt so whole and nourished. I had a little more kick in my step the rest of the day, and it provided relief every time I kept revisiting it as the week’s challenges unfolded.

I want you to experience the same powerful well-being boost that this simple exercise can provide.

To prepare for this, you may want to put your hands over your heart and say some loving words, such as “I love you…may you be happy… you are my best friend… may I be kind to myself…”

Now once you’ve got your brain primed for some self-love and self-kindness, get out a piece of paper and a pen. Either let it rip and just have at writing yourself a love letter, or use the prompts below to guide you.

After you write yourself a love letter, seal the letter, address it, and stamp it, and ask a trusted colleague or family member to mail it to you in a few months.

Tips for using at a Staff Meeting:

If doing this as a staff, let people write themselves love letters at the start of the meeting, which will hopefully lead to positive feelings floating around all meeting. Then, have people partner up and trade envelopes to be returned several months later.

Tips for using with Children:

If you want to have your children write themselves a love letter, you can select from the prompts below or come up with some more of your own! For the kids, you can send their letters in the mail at a later date, or simply hand them back out to read at a much later point in the school year.

As an alternative, you, your colleagues, and your students can hold onto your respective love letters to be read whenever there’s a need for a little self-love boost.

Love Letter Prompts

  • I’m grateful for you because…
  • I’m proud of you because...
  • You me feel happy because...
  • You make me feel loved because…
  • You are awesome because...
  • You are unlike anyone else because...
  • You are resilient because….
  • You make a difference because…
  • You are special because…
  • You are strong because…
  • You are brave because…
  • Even though ______ is hard, you…
  • It’s okay you’re having a hard time with…
  • You’re doing the best you can.
  • What I wish for you is...
  • Let’s take care of you by...
  • I will always be here for you.
  • You matter.
  • I love you.

Your Turn

You are the constant in your life, and your loving words to yourself have so much power.

So no matter how much time you’ve got, I’m hopeful that at least one of these practices of self-compassion will help you and the children in your world get filled up and more capable of radiating love to others.

Pick one and let me know how it goes!

If you have another favorite self-love or self-compassion practice you’d like to share with the Constant Love and Learning community, drop your idea in the comments below!

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